A bizarre story has been floating around this week. Residents in all 50 states have received mysterious packages of seeds that appear to be coming from China. Who sent these packages? Why did they send them? What are the seeds? Are they dangerous? These, and many other questions, currently remain unanswered. Unsurprisingly, if you do receive a mysterious package of seeds, officials have warned to not plant them over concerns of what these seeds are, and that they may be for a dangerous invasive species.
In light of this recent event, we thought it would be a good idea to review some financial personal hygiene in case you receive other unsolicited correspondence.
There is no Nigerian prince, and you did not win a prize
The internet is filled with financial scams that are increasingly becoming more and more sophisticated. One of the original tricks was to convince people, for a “low” fee, to provide money to a Nigerian prince who could not access his vast fortune. If you provide money to help him, in return, he would make your trouble worthwhile by compensating you well above your initial investment. Unsurprisingly, if you did provide money to the downtrodden prince, you did not get the promised fortune in return.
If the promise too good to be true didn't awaken you to the scam, hopefully the vast number of spelling and grammar mistakes did. Many of the first online scams were easy to spot because of this. But these days online scams are getting more and more advanced, and are increasingly looking more realistic.
Some common scams include receiving an email saying that you won a prize! All you have to do is provide a few key pieces of information about yourself (a Social Security number perhaps), and the prize is yours. Others may notify you that you have been locked out of your account and you must immediately enter your login information to verify your identity. Clicking this link will bring you to a fake replica of the website where they then capture your username and password when you enter it.
How to keep yourself safe?
With the scams appearing more convincing, the best protection is to be aware of what you're interacting with on the web. When you receive an unsolicited email for a prize, it's likely fake. If you are unexpectedly asked to log into your account, don't click on the link in the email. Instead, open a new tab on your browser and access your account separately to verify whether it was real or not. Just being more cognizant of the online correspondence you receive can go a long way.
The IRS won’t personally call you
Phone scams are another area to be extra vigilant. Over the years there have been numerous scams involving someone pretending to be from the IRS or the Social Security Office, among others. These fraudsters will generally call and try to intimidate you into providing sensitive financial information, or get you to pay money to them, usually through bitcoin or gift cards. The objective of the fraudster is to try and create a sense of urgency to convince you to act quickly. They sometimes threaten jail time if you do not pay your "back taxes" or they may threaten to permanently cut off your Social Security benefits if you don't provide the necessary information immediately.
The key thing to keep in mind is that these government agencies should never be calling you directly. If they do, they will never be asking for personal information over the phone. If you are worried about the IRS or Social Security Office, you should contact them directly or speak with a financial advisor or tax preparer.
Another type of phone scam is when an unknown number calls you and immediately hangs up. They try to trick you into calling the number back. If you do, you incur charges for an international call as long as the scammer can keep you on the phone. The number may even be spoofed to appear to be a local number, when in reality it is not. The best practice is to not answer calls from numbers you don't recognize and let them leave a voicemail if it is legitimate.
Texting is for scammers too
With many individuals becoming privy to the traditional methods of online and phone scams, fraudsters are entering another venue . . . text messages. If a scammer gets access to your phone number they may try to text you an important message from some government agency asking you to click on a link. Similarly to clicking malicious links online, these text links will also provide the fraudster access to your phone. Many people's entire financial lives are wrapped up in their phone through various banking and investment apps. If a fraudster gets access to this information, they can wreak havoc on your financial life. Like other scams, it's best to not open or click on any links from numbers you don't recognize, or services that you did not request.
A new opportunity for fraudsters
A topic on everyone's mind these days is the coronavirus. Between health and financial concerns, this is a subject that will continue to dominate the headlines for months to come. This is a ripe opportunity for these unscrupulous individuals to create new scams that plague on our deepest fears.
The FTC has a list of current scams involving the coronavirus. As time goes on, others are likely to be added to the list. Many of these scams involve the usual methods of email, phone, or text, but the message used pertains to the coronavirus, or stimulus information. Some of the main scams right now include:
Texts, emails, or phone calls about government stimulus checks
Selling fake vaccination or test kits
Donation requests for a fake charity
Fake work from home job offers
Like any other fraudulent message, it's best practice to not respond to these unsolicited requests. If you do decide to research further, don't click on the link provided, but do the research on trusted websites in a separate browser. Anything finance related in terms of government programs or stimulus, it's a good idea to speak with a financial advisor. They should be aware of any programs currently available and can provide details on whether the information was legitimate or not, and if it is relevant to you and your situation.
Fraudsters are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and their tactics know no bounds. They will even use a global pandemic to try and convince innocent individuals to provide sensitive information about themselves or purchase fake products. Your best line of defense is to simply be on your guard. Being consciously aware that these scams exist, and being ever vigilant before clicking on any links or providing any personal information. This is relevant whether you receive a suspicious email, phone call, text, or even. . . a package of seeds in the mail.
In the modern world there is a lot to be concerned with. If you need assistance with your financial planning, please reach out to our team and we would be happy to speak with you.